I realized just the other day that I only have three months left of my just over a year term in Nicaragua. I have no idea where the time has gone! It amazes me that this can happen but it happens every time I am abroad – the time flies!Projects have slowed down a bit here in the MiCrédito office, as internal transition has put a hold on some of my projects while I wait for information to be gathered and pass along to me to work with. This slow-down has given me some time to think and reflect on my time here and my upcoming trip home to visit friends and family, which will be in a month.People here keep asking me what I miss the most about Canada or what is the first thing I am going to eat, for example. So, in honour of Canada Day this Monday, I thought I would reflect this post on Canada and what it is that I miss the most from the motherland... And the answer? Bubble tea. Bubble tea is a delicious drink with a cold tea or juice base liquid and tapioca bubble-balls that float around at the bottom. It is served with an enormous straw you can use to sip up the bubbles! It is DELICIOUS. Every Sunday when I lived in Ottawa for school I would make my way down to the Korean area with some of my friends and we would indulge in Vietnamese pho and bubble tea for dessert. Afterwards, my Chinese friends would educate me about all of the different things you can find at the local Chinese grocery store. I loved a Sunday afternoon in Korea Town.I realized that the thing I missed most from home was not exactly bubble tea, itself, but the multiculturalism and diversity that can be found in Canada and in particular, cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver. On any given night of the week, my friends could be faced with the tough decision of which restaurant to visit. Here in Managua, we do have several options: the local fritanga stand, the more “upscale” Nicaraguan food, a Peruvian restaurant (which I am in love with), various American food chains, French, Mexican, and a few others. Managua does offer a varying amount and therefore, I cannot complain. However, I still can’t quick that longing desire to debate with my friends the classic “sushi” or “pho”. Italian? Thai?What I also look forward to seeing is a sea of faces from hundreds of countries living together in one city; enjoying the hot Toronto sun, partaking in one another’s culture and appreciating the unique cultural aspects each person can bring to the community.
Every morning, I have the joy of getting in a car with a man named Leo. Leo is a taxi driver living in Managua, Nicaragua and has been working at his trade for 15 years. He knows every speed bump, pot hole, over-turned stone and congested street in the city and has even managed to master the difficult directional system that Nicaraguan's proudly stand by. "Buenos Dias, Katherine! Como estas?" He exclaims every time. His smile always seems to bring one out in me, as I know his exclamations and excitement stem from the heart. Leo is a client of MiCrédito and through their relationship, which has spanned the last 5 years, he has received multiple loans to finance his taxi business. Leo is known around the Rubenia branch for being quick to pay back his loan and always excited about coming in to the office to do so, often being sure to steal the time of one of the busy Loan Officers or the Branch Coordinator, engaging them in a deep conversation (whether they have the time for it or not!).It was no surprise to Cesia Calderon, the Rubenia Branch Coordinator and Financial Educator for MiCrédito clients that Leo was quick to adopt the newest financial product offered by the Microfinance bank. "Leo loves the new Debit Card system that we are using! He instantly saw it's benefits and wasn't hesitant to share them with the rest of the clients at our last Financial Education meeting. He was practically up on the table!""The debit card lets me feel safe and secure, while conducting my business. Now, I do not carry large amounts of cash in my taxi with me and run the risk of being robbed. Instead, I use my BAC Debit Card to deposit the money I make each day. In the same way, I use this card at gas stations, which lets me collect points with BACs reward system and limit the risk associated with using cash." Through MiCrédito's recent partnership with Banco America Central (more commonly known as BAC, in Central America), client loans are deposited directly into a BAC Debit Account and the clients are distributed a debit card from a MiCrédito branch. This account represents a secure and safe place to hold loan money and truly represents the idea of financial inclusion. Clients that were previously denied access to the regulated financial system because minimum balance requirements and banking fees were too high, are now provided an account with BAC that has no fees and does not require a minimum balance. "I like this product a lot and I am happy to be able to use it every day. My money is more secure and therefore, I feel more secure."Leo continued on to express how the account provides a safe place for his savings, which are very vital to his own sustainability and that of his families. "Some days are good days as a taxi driver and other's are not. Therefore, I need to prepare for those bad days and have some money kept away in order to do so."As clients begin to use the Debit Card offered by MiCrédito, many road blocks, cultural barriers and system limitations prevent them from adopting the technology with optimism and ease. However, success stories, like Leo's, helps clients to realize that the benefits, which lie in the associated safety and security, outweigh the hesitation that springs from the unknown.
At this point in my Nica story, I have already learned that this internship is proving to be one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures that I have been blessed to embark on. Not only am I gaining important skills that I can take with me throughout my career, but the things I have already learned about myself make every cross-cultural challenge, language miscommunication and personal struggle worthwhile.Habia una vez... For the first month and a half of my time in Nicaragua I lived near Masaya, in a small pueblo named San Juan de la Conception (La Concha), with an amazingly kind Nicaraguan family. While attending La Mariposa Spanish School, the family opened their home to me and shared with me their food, time, knowledge and most importantly, patience. Knowing absolutely zero Spanish before coming here made the first few weeks (correction: entire trip thus far) a little bit difficult. However, poco a poco, I have learned how to communicate, though their remains many times at which, I smile and pretend to understand what is happening... (more often than I would like to admit, actually..)By the time I left La Concha and my Nicaraguan Family, I felt like I was leaving the nest for the first time. Driving away in a half battered RAM truck, I looked behind me through the dust to see my family waving, worried. I was off to the big, scary city of Managua; and now, after living in Managua for about a month and a half, I see where its reputation originated from...The Big, Scary Managua...If you speak to most Nicaraguan's about Managua -those living in or outside of the city – few kind words are shared. The general perception of Managua encompasses three Spanish words, whose meanings I learned quickly: lleno, sucio and peligroso. AKA busy, dirty and dangerous. Part of this perception is routed in truth, but I also believe that most Nicaraguans are biased. And how could they not be? Nicaragua (outside of Managua) is one of the most naturally beautiful countries I have ever been blessed to visit. Rich, full of beautiful jungles, volcanoes, islands, beaches, and mountains; it is understandable that when knowing Nicaragua can offer these things, Managua may seem like quite the dump. With this realization came a very real truth in my life, something that I knew before, but limited the amount of weight I associated to it: What makes or breaks a place is its people; and Managua is not short of great people.Work LifeI work in a small office, with one of MEDA's partner organizations: MiCrédito. This microfinance bank is blessed to have a hard working, talented and kind staff, complete with patience and open arms. Though my understanding of the Spanish language falls short, I feel that I have been able to make real connections, possibly in despite of or beyond the barriers of language. Though my conversations may move at the speed of a tortoise and involve a lot of "Como?" or "Que?" real depth exists and it has proven to be my inspiration and motivation, while living here.Every city has its draw – its value, which at times, may be hidden. The rich history in Rome, the Culture of Art in Paris, the beauty of Multiculturalism in Toronto and what I can now see as Managua's draw – its soft hearted, good-spirited people, complete with a rough exterior and what can seem at times, an abrasive approach. With the good and the bad that Managua brings, it is where I am calling home for the next 4 months and I am happy to do so!